When you hear about the issues facing wildlife today, one of the main issues that tend to come up in conversation is animal trafficking.
Animal trafficking, also known as poaching, involves either hunting or capturing wild animals illegally for the purpose of selling the animals themselves or selling their parts as trophies.
Sometimes, animal trafficking happens in an effort to claim the surrounding land for use by humans.
In the past, poaching was something that people did to survive under the oppressive ruling classes who had superior hunting privileges. It is easier to see this type of poaching through a sympathetic lens.
Today, however, animal trafficking has many negative implications for biodiversity, animal rights, the environment, and even national stability.
If you’re interested in learning more about why animal trafficking is a problem and why we should all do our part to stop it, read on.
Cruelty To Animals
The main problem many animal lovers and animal rights activists have with animal trafficking is that it involves animal cruelty.
There are many more problems with animal trafficking that run deeper than the harm done to individual animals, but the issue of animal cruelty is the most obvious.
Animal trafficking always involves harming an animal in some way. Whether that means killing the animal or capturing it, the methods used are not humane and ultimately cause suffering.
If animals are not killed for their parts, they are transported, often overseas, in cramped and unenriching enclosures.
Because animal trafficking is illegal, (see also: Is Poaching Illegal? Comprehensive Guide To The Law And Animal Trafficking)the animals must be concealed when they are in transit, which makes the experience even more uncomfortable.
Often, feeding and watering is not done to an adequate standard, which is why the rate of fatality in animal trafficking is so high due to illness or starvation.
Beyond the direct harm caused to individual animals in the process of animal trafficking, we should also consider the damage done to entire species through this practice.
Many poachers specifically target endangered species because their parts are rarer and, therefore, worth more money. This means that species that are already at risk of extinction are being further depleted.
Even when these animals are not killed, they are often sold for breeding purposes, and since animal traffickers will choose the fittest and healthier individuals for breeding, this makes conservation efforts more difficult.
As a result of animal populations becoming extinct or being depleted, biodiversity loss is a real concern.
When a species is depleted, it can create a sex imbalance, making reproduction more difficult. This may lead to further population decline and eventually extinction.
This doesn’t just affect that species, but also other species and the entire ecosystem. This is especially true when keystone species are targeted.
A keystone species is a species that significantly impacts the survival of other species and plays an important role in the ecosystem.
Altering the food chain can cause other species to either explode or die out, creating food shortages.
At this point, we should also mention that animal trafficking is very damaging to the environment.
Deforestation is linked to animal trafficking because damage often has to be done to forest areas to find some of the species targeted by poachers.
Certain illegal fishing practices can also damage coral reefs and underwater habitats.
It’s not just biodiversity we have to worry about when it comes to animal trafficking. Biosecurity is also a deeply concerning issue, and one of the main causes is poaching.
Introducing a trafficked animal to a new environment (without the necessary medical care to ensure that the animal is disease-free) can lead to bacteria and viruses, or even parasites spreading to entire ecosystems and causing untold damage.
Wild animals trafficked into a new environment also have the potential to become pests and damage other animal populations.
This is especially true of fish that have been trafficked from one region to another.
Harm To Humans
There is a misconception when it comes to animal trafficking that the only harm done is to animals.
Of course, this is bad enough, but we have already seen that this isn’t true because of the environmental damage resulting from animal trafficking.
Unfortunately, poaching can have detrimental consequences for people, too.
Wildlife trafficking (see also: Can You Help To Stop Wildlife Trafficking? Yes You Can, And Here’s How)has a devastating impact on the environment which, in turn, means that natural resources are being depleted.
The economic damage resulting from this can destroy livelihoods. The ecotourism industry, for example, is suffering because of poaching.
It’s also important to remember that because rangers stand in the way of animal traffickers reaching their desired targets, rangers’ lives are also put at risk.
Because animal traffickers carry weapons, violence is common between poachers and rangers. On the other side of the equation, rangers often operate on a ‘shoot first’ policy which also contributes to the escalating violence.
Conflict caused by animal trafficking isn’t just interpersonal. It also has the potential to escalate to a national level, and this has happened on several occasions in the past.
Armed conflicts have previously occurred throughout the Central African Republic and especially in the Great Lakes Region.
This is because criminal networks are able to derive benefits from animal trafficking, and a link has been found between illegal poaching and arms trafficking(see also: Animal Trafficking: Prosecution, Fines, And Sentencing For Poaching).
The Security Council has made an official statement naming animal trafficking as one of the major reasons for the continuing Great Lakes conflict, proving just how damaging animal trafficking can be to both animals and human beings on a large scale.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Animal Is Trafficked the Most?
All cases of animal trafficking are concerning and deserving of attention, but the most trafficked mammal as of 2022 is the pangolin.
There are 8 species of pangolin, and all of them are targeted for trafficking to the extent that each species is currently in danger of becoming extinct.
Is Animal Trafficking Illegal?
Animal trafficking is, by definition, illegal. Sometimes, animals may be taken from their environment and moved to another, or they may even be killed for the purposes of population control.
However, when this is done legally and for the purposes of conservation or controlling populations, it is not called animal trafficking but rather, wildlife trade.
Capturing or killing wild animals becomes illegal and is called animal trafficking when it is done without permission and for the sole purpose of financial gain.
How Many Animals Are Trafficked Every Year?
It is impossible to put an exact number on how many animals are trafficked each year, but we do know that the number is in the millions.
Birds alone account for between 2 and 5 million animals trafficked yearly, and when you include reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and also insects, the number skyrockets.
Animal trafficking is a huge problem around the world, and not just for the reasons you might expect.
Of course, animal trafficking involves animal cruelty and leads to a loss of biodiversity and risks to biosecurity.
However, the trafficking of wild animals also impacts humans, either through loss of livelihood, threats of violence, or national instability.
Millions of animals continue to be trafficked every year despite the best efforts of rangers, and more awareness needs to be brought to the topic.